Every now and then I’m confronted with the idea of asking higher order thinking (HOT) questions. A lot of teachers are. In fact, there seems to be an unhealthy infatuation with HOT questions in education.
Don’t get me wrong, HOT questions certainly have their place. They serve to connect ideas, broaden perspectives, and deepen understanding of the content being learned. I strive for HOT questions. Even if it’s indirect, the heart of any good lesson, I believe, revolves around them. They’re a must.
That said, there’s much, much more to questioning than HOT questioning. In fact, by placing so much focus on HOT questions, we can lose sight of how questions build off one another and their dependency on current levels of student understanding. What is the goal of the question? How will it lead to the next? HOT questions can be too demanding and, consequently, create a gulf between what is currently understood and what’s expected. Any question is entirely dependent on our students – nothing else. They must meet them where they are.
What I strive for is not necessarily asking more HOT questions, but finding the most appropriate questions given the context. “What” and “when” questions should not be frowned upon if they are frequently used during a lesson. Instead, we should be critical of the sequenceof any and all questions we ask and how this sequence impacts students’ abilities to answer HOT questions.
I’ve realized that it has become a goal of mine to improve my questioning. Here’s some of what I’ve been pondering (and doing) as of late.
1. Asking “what if…” questions. This will usually come into play after we finish a problem. I try to change the conceptual nature of the problem, which provokes students to examine relationships and see the problem under a new context. I also really like giving the students a minute or two to generate their own “what if…” questions about a problem after we’ve found a solution.
2. Asking students to find errors within student work samples. I really started focusing on this last year with my exit tickets, but I’m doing it just about every class. I usually pick up someone’s paper and slide it under the document camera for the class the assess. Quick, easy, authentic. Plus, it creates a culture of identifying and accepting mistakes on a regular basis.
3. I’ve also begun asking students to identify potential errors within problems before examining any sample work. The result is always rich classroom discussion over creatively wrong solutions. The goal is for them to identify both subtle and more serious mistakes that could occur.
4. Having students construct their own questions (that are good). I really need to get better at this. I’ve had some success in the past, but usually when I least expect it. I’m thinking of researching more into RQI to find some useful strategies.
5. The other day, out of the blue, I utilized a “convince me” statement to a student during a class discussion. We were factoring and I proposed a (wrong) solution to him. I essentially asked “why is my solution wrong,” but in a way that felt more like a challenge rather than a question. I felt the power when I uttered it. It probably bled through from a workshop from Chris Luzniak a couple years ago on using debate in math class. He has great stuff.
6. Using questions as a foundation of my class. I want my classroom culture to be one that emphasizes the why behind the answer instead of the answer itself. As a math teacher, I’ve always emphasized work and how critical it is. But I’ve never lived out that creed by how I teach my kids. Trying to change that this year. More to come on this.
7. If one student X makes a statement about something we’re studying, I’ll sometimes turn to student Y and ask them to “Interpret what X just said…”
8. During an intervisitation, the teacher I was visiting posed a question to the class and no one responded or seemed to have a clue. He said “Alright, take 30 seconds and brainstorm with a neighbor about the question.” He waited and asked the question again and there were several responses. This was awesome.
9. The questioning doesn’t begin and end while I’m teaching. I’ve started questioning more of what I plan and structure for my students, including things that I’ve done for years. I’ve put my teaching philosophy under a microscope too. It’s changing. This will have repercussions far greater than any question I could ever pose to a student.